Archive for the 'economy' Category

But All the New Jobs Suck!

Sharon September 6th, 2012

In case you missed this article last week, we find what most of us have already guessed – a lot of the much-vaunted “new job creation” is crappy, ill-paid make work without much future – and yet again, people who could once earn a living are now struggling to manage bad jobs:

The report looked at 366 occupations tracked by the Labor Department and clumped them into three equal groups by wage, with each representing a third of American employment in 2008. The middle third — occupations in fields like construction, manufacturing and information, with median hourly wages of $13.84 to $21.13 — accounted for 60 percent of job losses from the beginning of 2008 to early 2010.

The job market has turned around since then, but those fields have represented only 22 percent of total job growth. Higher-wage occupations — those with a median wage of $21.14 to $54.55 — represented 19 percent of job losses when employment was falling, and 20 percent of job gains when employment began growing again.

Lower-wage occupations, with median hourly wages of $7.69 to $13.83, accounted for 21 percent of job losses during the retraction. Since employment started expanding, they have accounted for 58 percent of all job growth.

The occupations with the fastest growth were retail sales (at a median wage of $10.97 an hour) and food preparation workers ($9.04 an hour). Each category has grown by more than 300,000 workers since June 2009.

At the same time that the cost of a college education has skyrocketed well past the rate of inflation, those without college degrees are being squeezed out, as are young college graduates.  This represents a deep and really disturbing change in the way the economy works, and one unlikely to turn around – instead, we’re seeing the reality – you can’t afford to get an advanced degree, and you can’t get a job without one.  This is the gradual elimination of the middle class – and it ain’t going away.


Best Frugality Tips?

Sharon December 1st, 2011

I’m going to be buried under my book for the next few days as the Adapting-In-Place book finally goes to my editor, but I did want to respond to this email, or rather, get my readers to respond. Gwen writes:

I just lost my job, and after a lot of late nights and panicked budget making, we think we can get along on just my husband’s income, but it will be very tough and there will be no money at all for extras of any kind. We’ve always used our discretionary income to support things we care about – in the last few years this was local farmers and craftspeople, and making ethical choices when we shopped. Now I feel like I don’t have the luxury anymore – I know a lot of things that I can do to save money will be environmentally sound as well – turning down the heat, cutting back on the lights, buying more used items, but I hate to go back to choosing the supermarket for food and Toys R’Us for gifts because they are cheaper, but they often are. Do you have any suggestions for frugal sustainable shopping?”

This is a great and timely question, and I do have answers, but unfortunately, I’m head down in the last bit of my book and don’t have time to respond right now. Thus, I pass it on to you, my readers. How do you balance the need to save money with making good and ethical consumer choices that support things that are important to you? What do you suggest to Gwen?

Thanks everyone!

So American Health Care is Even More Costly than We Thought…

admin March 23rd, 2011

Not-unexpected but useful news item that got buried behind Tokyo’s contaminated water story – apparently Americans aren’t spending 8K a year on health care costs, they are actually spending 10K a year on health care costs.  Is this the time for one of those choruses of “We’re number one!”

These “hidden” costs of health care — like taking time off to care for elderly parents — add up to $363 billion, according to a report from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a research group.

hat amounts to $1,355 per consumer, on top of the $8,000 the government says people spend on doctor fees and hospital care.

“We’re surprised that this number came in so high. It’s significant,” said Paul Keckley, executive director with the group.

The out-of-pocket costs that the government tallies usually include only insurance-related costs like premiums, deductibles, and co-payments.

Keckley said the study is the first to estimate how much consumers dish out on health care related goods and services not covered by private or government insurance.

These include: ambulance services, alternative medicines, nutritional products and vitamins, weight-loss centers and supervisory care of elderly family members.

“These costs can add up to billions of dollars, even eclipsing housing as a household expense,” said Keckley.

The study found that more than half of those costs were the cost of caregiving in lost wages.  This is a number we can only expect to see rise radically.  Many states have already cut aide and home health care support, assisted living kicks you out as soon as your income runs out, disability housing and services for the disabled are among the first convenient targets when budgets get tight, and the state funded nursing homes are both closing and becoming increasingly dire.  Add to that an aging population, and the outcomes are predictable.  The only alternative is for people to do caregiving at home – and at considerable cost in both wages and personal terms.  For those unlucky enough to have no one to take care of them, the outcomes are worse.

This is something I know something about – I worked for many years in elder care and hospices, then cared for Eric’s grandparents in our home, and eventually I will be my oldest son’s caregiver, since he is unlikely to ever live independently.  We are also guardians for our disabled niece whose mother is a generation older than I and who will also probably never live independently.  Giving care is something I expect to be doing for a long time.  I’m very comfortable with that part of my life, but I don’t claim it will be easy or that the costs will be easy to bear.

The hard reality is that a lot of people will have to come out of the workforce in order to do the work of caring for children, the disabled and the elderly.  The good/bad news is that a lot of people are coming out of the workforce, of course, but their obligation is to look for work full time – which pretty much precludes taking care of Grandma, your brother who is a war amputee or any children who need it.

Apparently many economists were surprised by the high cost of caregiving, of transporting the ill too and fro, of all the attempts to find alternatives and to soften side effects that go will illness and disability, aging and ordinary childhood health costs.  Anyone who lives them is not.  The reason these are surprising to some people is that they are “housewifized” out of existance – our society doesn’t recognize the value of caregiving except when it is professionalized and industrialized.  It erases domestic and family support, implies they are valueless and best undertaken in professional settings.  Then, when the money isn’t there or the professional settings are unhealthy, we pretend that this is not “real” work.

The shifting of nearly everyone into the industrial, formal economy resulted in the radical impoverishing of the informal economy – an impoverishment that must be reversed if outcomes are to be better than worst.


Rowan Williams on the Purpose of the Economy

Sharon November 19th, 2009

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has given a lovely speech on the central question of our times – what is our economy for?  Thanks to Rod Dreher for pointing it out:

“‘Economy’ is simply the Greek word for ‘housekeeping’. Remembering this is a useful way of getting things in proportion, so that we don’t lose sight of the fact that economics is primarily about the decisions we make so as to create a habitat that we can actually live in. We are still haunted by the dogma that the economic world, ‘economic realities’, economic motivations and so on belong in a completely different frame of reference from the sort of human decisions we usually make and from considerations of how we build a place to live. And to speak about building a place to live, a habitat, reminds us too that we look for an environment that is stable, ‘sustainable’ in the popular jargon, a home that we can reasonably expect will be an asset for the next generation.

Economics understood in abstraction from all this is not just an academic error: it actually dismantles the walls of the home. Appealing to the market as an independent authority, unconnected with human decisions about ‘housekeeping’, has meant in many contexts over the last few decades a ruinous legacy for heavily indebted countries, large-scale and costly social disruption even in developed economies; and, most recently, the extraordinary phenomena of a financial trading world in which the marketing of toxic debt became the driver of money-making – until the bluffs were all called at the same time.

If we are not to be caught indefinitely in a trap we have designed for ourselves, we have to ask what an economy would look like if it were genuinely focused on making and sustaining a home – a social environment that offered security for citizens, including those who could not contribute in obvious ways to productive and profit-making business, an environment in which we felt free to forego the tempting fantasies of unlimited growth in exchange for the knowledge that we could hand on to our children and grandchildren a world, a social and material nexus of relations that would go on nourishing proper three-dimensional human beings – people whose family bonds, imaginative lives and capacity for mutual understanding and sympathy were regarded as every bit as important as their material prosperity.”


“Earlier I mentioned the work of Kenny Tang. At the end of his wide-ranging recent book (pp.137-60), he sketches four scenarios for the second half of the twenty first century, varying from a ‘golden age’ picture in which economic stability offers a secure background for sustaining the planet’s assets, through a model in which good intentions for sustainable and ethical behaviour in respect of the environment are undermined by boom and bust cycles in the economy, a more serious model in which patterns of consumption do not basically change, so that we face ‘resource wars’ over our finite supplies, and finally a nightmare scenario of a planet that has become a jigsaw of ‘protectionist nation-states’, where each state both refuses to challenge its aspirations for material growth and helps to inflate commodity prices worldwide by protectionist strategies.

What is most sobering about Tang’s fourth model is that so much of it reads like a description of what is already happening in many quarters and what some of the rhetoric of the wealthy world seems to take for granted. And what his analysis points up is a message that can be derived from any of the economic forecasters I have quoted: without a stable economy, the rest is idle dreaming. And a stable economy depends on our willingness to question the imperatives of unchecked growth – which in turn is a moral and cultural matter. The energy for resistance has to come from the sort of stubborn moral and cultural commitment to humane virtue that I have been speaking about.

I realise that the word ‘virtue’ is hard for many to take seriously. But it’s high time we reclaimed it. We have no other way of talking about the solid qualities of human behaviour that make us more than reactive and self-protective – the qualities of courage, intelligent and generous foresight, self-critical awareness and concern for balanced universal welfare which, under other names, have been part of the vocabulary of European ethics for two and half thousand years: fortitude, prudence, temperance and justice. In the Christian world, of course, they have been supplemented by, and grounded in, the virtues of faith, hope and love that, in their full meaning, are bound up with relation to God. But there has always been a recognition that the four pillars of ordinary human virtue were not a matter of special revelation but the raw materials for any kind of co-operative and just society. Without courage and careful good sense, the capacity to put your own desires into perspective and the concern that all should share in what is recognised as good and lifegiving, there is no stable world, no home to live in – no house to keep.”

The combination of graceful prose and intellectual clarity is just lovely.


Just Don't Be Poor

Sharon November 13th, 2009

Robyn at her Adapting-In-Place Blog has what I think is a superbly dark and funny piece about the pains of accepting public assistance.  I think it is well worth a read:  She lists the rules that people who accept public assistance are forced to adhere to:

Two of her rules:

“3. Never engage in any luxury activity at all, ever. Remember, you are currently taking public aid, which means of course that you must never, ever, find any way to enjoy your life that costs any amount of money at all. Do not ever do any of the following: go to movies, rent movies, go to the theatre, go to a restaurant, take your children to amusement/skating/other fun activities, or anything else that might cost money. You are poor–you don’t deserve a moment’s enjoyment of life. If you did deserve it, you wouldn’t be poor, right?

3a. In addition to money-costing activities, also remember that free activities that you might enjoy are also forbidden. Every moment you are enjoying yourself is a moment you are not spending trying to find a job, keep a job, find another job, or find a third/fourth job. Obviously this must be your only focus. As such, all of the following activities are also forbidden: walks in the park, taking children to the playground, having a picnic, sitting on your porch with friends, visiting family, going to parties, etc.

4. Never possess any item which could be construed as you spending money. This rule is a bit confusing, so examples might serve well here: do not let your SIL give you a manicure for your birthday, or fix your hair in any fancy way. Do not dress in business clothes, even purchased secondhand. Do not borrow your parents/in-laws nice car to go to run errands. Never dress your children in the expensive clothing purchased for them as gifts by loving relatives. Do not use public aid to buy your child a birthday cake and soda, which was the only thing they asked for for their birthday. Obviously, if an upstanding, tax-paying citizen sees you in a grocery store with nicely done nails & hair, driving a nice car, and buying a cake and soda, they are entitled to decry loudly (and post everywhere possible online) how abusive you are being of the system. Just because they have no idea how or why you have these things is no excuse–it is your responsibility as a poor person to never make taxpayers have to think about, well, much of anything.

4a. To maintain the personal moral indignation of the taxpayer to our situations, it is acceptable to on occasion breach rule #4 in limited fashion. This allows the taxpayer to continue with their prejudices, which is crucial for our status quo.”

You really do need to read the whole thing – she brilliantly articulates the way that our society punishes you for becoming poor.


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